China Flexes Mobile Payment Muscles

  • Philip Ryan
  • December 5, 2013
  • 0

shanghaiLooking for the latest and greatest in mobile payments? Try China. Companies from the world’s most populous country have made some bold moves recently to bring digital payments into the mainstream not just in China, but around the globe, and innovators in the US and Europe should be paying close attention.

E-payment company Alipay, a subsidiary of digital retailer Alibaba – for a comparable arrangement, imagine Amazon owning PayPal — is bringing its payments platform to the United States. Why? Because Chinese shoppers are coming to the US. Alipay launched in 2004 and has become a trusted brand in China with over 700 million users — a touch more than PayPal’s 137 million. Businesses in the San Francisco Bay area, which receives a large number of Chinese visitors, are looking at Alipay as a way of capturing sales. Herb seller iHerb, based in southern California, saw a 244% lift in sales over the previous six months after it began accepting payments via Alipay.

Mobile messaging app WeChat has 270 million users, 75% of whom are in mainland China. WeChat has been making moves into the payments space, recently partnering with smartphone maker Xiaomi to sell 150,000 WeChat-branded phones from within the app. The phones sold out in ten minutes. WeChat is now entering the game space, which is enormous in China and where the virtual currency QQ began life before gaining more general use. WeChat’s success is significant as well for its influence on non-Chinese companies. CEO Evan Spiegel of Snapchat, based in the Los Angeles area, has said publicly he intends to follow WeChat’s lead in monetization.

btc_realtime2China Telecom
China’s third largest mobile carrier China Telecom launched a mobile wallet this week in conjunction with more than 10 of the nation’s banks. The company has 175 million users. The NFC-powered wallet will enable users to pay for public transportation, shopping and dining out. China’s two larger carriers, China Mobile (759 million users) and China Unicom (275 million users), have already issued NFC-based mobile wallets. China Telecom plans to issue 40 different smartphone models that support its mobile phone. That’s a bit more diverse a product line than Apple’s iPhone, which China’s largest carrier China Mobile plans to release soon — news that has buoyed Apple’s stock price.

China’s well-known love of bitcoins, which has helped lift the price of a bitcoin north of $1,o00, has taken a blow on the news that Beijing considers the currency to lack “real meaning” and represents “leakage” in the global monetary system. But a look at, which visually represents global currency transactions, shows the bitcoins still flowing into the People’s Republic. The love of virtual currency is nothing new for China. An earlier infatuation with a currency invented for gaming known as QQ threatened to destabilize the yuan. Mobile carriers are moving to accept payments in bitcoins using Chinese bitcoin exchange Bitbill. Another Chinese exchange, BTC China, became the world’s highest-volume bitcoin exchange in November, passing Tokyo-based Mt.Gox.

Even with bitcoins spurned by Beijing, it seems everything to do with mobile payments is a step ahead in China.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at

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